Following the introduction of the new Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, scheme operators for TrustMark, the Government endorsed quality mark for expert tradespeople, are swinging into action to help builders comply with the significant changes that now apply to home improvement and repair contracts.
The new regulations introduce major changes in the law relating to consumer protection. They now apply to consumer contracts made on-premises (through retail stores), made at a distance (including online sales) and off-premises (e.g. in-home sales).
Building firms will need to review their processes and change their paperwork and terms and conditions to ensure they are compliant with the new law. Failure to comply may result in prosecution or a fine. Depending on the type of breach, the contract with the homeowner may also be invalid.
The key changes include:
- Consumers must now be given much more information before they sign a contract, about the trader, the goods, the price, any other applicable charges, the terms of the contract, and their cancellation rights in a clear and comprehensive manner.
- Traders will need the active consent of the consumer for all payments – pre-ticked boxes for additional payments, for instance, will no longer be permitted.
- Consumers will not be liable for costs which they have not been told about in advance.
- The cooling-off period for goods and services sold by distance or by off-premises selling will be harmonised across the EU to 14 days from date of delivery of the products, as opposed to the previous seven days from date of contract.
- Where a consumer has a right to cancel a contract, the trader is required to provide the customer with a model cancellation form.
- The cancellation period is extended to, broadly, 12 months if the trader fails to provide certain pre-contract information. The trader could also be liable to a fine of up to £5,000.
There are some exemptions as regards cancellation rights, one of which is for products “made to the consumer’s specification” – this will include such products as made-to-measure windows made to a consumer’s specific requirements; another is for urgent repairs and maintenance when a consumer invites a trader to their home.
Liz Male Chairman of TrustMark, says:
“These new Consumer Contracts Regulations will really help to clarify contracts for homeowners and tradespeople, so they should be viewed positively. It’s a big step forward to helping both sides enjoy a positive and transparent working relationship on all home repair, maintenance and improvement jobs.
“What matters now is that all TrustMark-registered firms get the detailed guidance they need in order to ensure they are fully compliant. I’m delighted our approved scheme operators in this sector, including the Federation of Master Builders are already busy providing this support to their registered firms.”
Brian Berry, Chief Executive, Federation of Master Builders, said:
“With these new laws, traders are required to give much more detailed information before and after making a sale, which can only be a good thing for consumers so they can ensure there are no hidden costs. The purpose of this requirement is to make sure that, should a dispute arise at some point after the contract has been concluded, both parties have a record about what was agreed.
“But the burden of proof that the relevant information has been provided rests with the tradesperson. That’s why we are helping registered firms understand the new requirements and make appropriate changes in order to avoid the risk of committing a criminal offence and resulting in non payment from a customer. We anticipate that in many cases our registered firms are already compliant with the consumer-friendly aspects of the regulations, but we encourage all firms to review their terms and conditions to make sure that they are in line with the fine detail of these new changes.”